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Li Bai
- Qin Shi Bu #73
李白 1
琴史補 #73 2
Image of Li Bai 3        
Li Bai (ca 705 - 762), also called Li Po or Li Bo, is probably China's most famous poet. Amongst the many writings about him is an historical novel that includes a brief passage in which he plays the qin and discusses briefly its philosopy.
4 The present page focuses exclusively on his connection to the qin. In this regard Ronald Egan writes (Controversy, p.53), "In the first centuries of the Tang dynasty, the poets Meng Haoran and Li Bo further promoted the cultivation of a special literati affiliation with this instrument."

Qinshu Daquan (QQJC, Vol. V) has the following poems by Li Bai about the qin, or that mention it:5

Folio 18, #37 6 (V. 399)
Folio 19A, #8 7 (V. 416)
Folio 19B, #31 - #32 8 (V. 424, two poems),
Folio 20A, #11 9 (V. 442)

Other poems include,

廬山謠 Lushan Ballad (see Sun Yu: Li Po, A New Translation, p.334), with the line,

Long ago I swallowed an elixer, and so have no more interest in worldly affairs;
When I expressed myself through the qin three times (
qinxin sandie), my Dao became actualized.
(See qin xin and compare Xie Juanzi essay).

In addition, a number of commentaries on this site connect Li Bai lyrics to qin melodies. Here is a sample. Only the first and last actually set his lyrics to a qin melody.

Cai Shi Wunong
Qiu Yue Zhao Maoting
Zhi Zhao Fei
Wu Ye Ti
Yi Guan Shan (see his poem Guan Shan Yue)
Qiu Feng Ci

The original Qin Shi Bu essay begins as follows.

Li Bai, style name 太伯 Taibo, was from east of the mountains (in Central Asia, where his family had been living.) As a youth he had extraordinary talent and a lack of restraint. The qin poems he wrote mention such melodies as Qingye Wen Zhong,10 Yu Guan Ding,11 Yuan Wang Huanghelou,12 Yutang Qing,13 and Dui Yue Yin.14 There was also playing You Jian Quan.15 The poem says,

幽澗泉,鳴深林。 (You Jian Quan resonated in the deep forest.)

There was a 負琴生者....incomplete.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Li Bai 李白
14817.284 蜀昌明人...字太伯號酒仙翁... from Changming in Sichuan, style name Taibo, nickname Jiuxianweng....

2. Only source given is 蓴湖漫錄 Chunhu Manlu

3. Li Bai image
Image from Assorted Pictures of the Three Realms (三才圖會 Sancai Tuhui, 1607) was taken from 14819.284.

4. Li Bai plays qin in A Floating Life, a novel by Simon Elegant
In the novel (published Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1997), Chapter Eight begins with Li Bai telling his young disciple, Wang Long (Wang Lung), that most so-called qin lovers are really hypocrites who typically hang an instrument on the wall and quote classical sayings, but can play little, if at all. Li Bai then says he will play two melodies, "Treading the Cloud Ladder" and "The Barbarian Pipes", then teach them to Wang. From Elegant's description these are quite advanced melodies; Wang seems to be totally unfamiliar with a qin. Unfortunately there is no follow up to suggest how Wang might have dealt with such instruction. As for the melodies themselves, "Barbarian Pipes" is an obvious reference to some version of the famous qin melody title, e.g., Da Hu Jia; "Treading the cloud ladder" (which Li Bai proceeds to play) is more puzzling.

"Treading the cloud ladder" is the translation in Van Gulik's Lore of the Chinese Lute of 步雲梯 Bu Yun Ti, the title of Section 1 of the 1556 version of the qin melody Wandering in a Lunar Palace (Guanghan You). Elegant mentions other sections of his Treading the Cloud Ladder, but these in fact almost all refer to section titles of Guanghan You, specifically to Van Gulik's translations of them. The exception is Plain of the Skies: I am not sure of the source for that expression, unless it is his translation of Guanghan itself. It should be noted that Guanghan You is not on any of the pre-Ming dynasty melody lists, and for 步雲梯 Bu Yun Ti 16621.xxx and I have found no other reference.

Elegant has a section of Notes at the end giving some of his sources, but does not give sources for his qin information. Like Van Gulik, Elegant calls the qin a Lute.

5. There are many others. Sometimes the meaning "qin" is conveyed by a reference such as Lu Qi, the name of a famous qin, as in In Praise of Qin below; this is spelled out in 遊泰山詩 his poem "Traveling to Mount Tai":

Alone I carry my qin called Lu Qi, at night walking in the green mountains.

6. 贊琴 In Praise of Qin, by 李白 Li Bai:



Yiyang gutong: the solitary tong trees on the south side Yi mountain (8707.1/.7; 書,禹貢 [Legge, Shoo King, p.107]) in 邱縣 Qiu district, near 徐州 Xuzhou in Jiangsu (not the one in Shandong) had trees good for making qins.
7. 詠琴 Declamation on the Qin, by Li Bai:

珍色不貴道,䛗惜飛光沉。 (36330 䛗 zhi = 訐 jie accuse, pry)

8. 聽蜀僧濬彈琴 Listening to Monk Jun of Shu Play a Qin (僧濬 Seng Jun = "Monk Deep" [1111.xxx]);
Numerous translations, including Hinton, Selected Poems of Li Po, p.73; Ronald Egan, Controversy, p. 46; Witter Bynner, 300 Tang Poems (online); Ying Sun (also online).

蜀僧把綠綺,   The Sichuan monk carrying his "luqi"     (Luqi was a qin name, so famous it came to stand for qin itself)
西下峨眉峰。   Came from the west, down Emei Peak.
為我一揮手,   As soon as he began playing for me
如聽萬壑松。   It was like listening to pines of 10,000 valleys,
客心洗流水,   With the guest's heart being cleansed by flowing streams     (Flowing Streams was already a famous melody name)
餘響入霜鍾。   And even more of the melody going through frosty (temple) bells.     (Frosty Bell was also the name of a qin)
不覺碧山暮,   Before I knew it the emerald hills were shrouded by dusk,
秋雲暗幾重。   the autumn clouds darkening as they multiplied.

And 月夜聽盧子順彈琴 On a Moonlit Evening Listening to Lu Zishun Play a Qin
Lu Zishun (23580.xxx; 7072.548xxx); translated in Hinton, Selected Poems of Li Po, p.28.


9. 酬裴侍御彈琴 Toasting Attendant Censor Pei for the Qin Playing, by 李白 Li Bai (QSCB, Folio 20A, #11)
In Complete Tang Poems (全唐詩·捲178) this is called 詶裴侍御留岫師彈琴見寄 Toasting Attendant Censor Pei for hosting the qin play of Master Xiu (Xiu Shi):

瑤草綠未衰,攀飜寄情親。   (4982 飜 fan = 飛 )
Not yet translated. In this regard compare this poem by Liu Zongyuan:

In both poems 酬...見寄 means "接受別人寄贈作品後,以作品答謝之 after receiving the work of art from someone else as a present, to thank by giving one's own work" (see http://ettc.sysu.edu.cn/tangsong/sc/liuzongyuan7.htm). That suggests that in the poem thanking 裴侍御 for 留岫師彈琴, 留 probably means 留客 or 留宿, i.e. to keep in one's home. And since Xiu Shi seems to be the person who's playing the qin, the title seems to roughly mean, "To express thanks to Attendant Censor Pei for hosting Xiu Shi's qin playing".

10. 清夜聞鐘 Qingye Wen Zhong (18003.183; 18/178/--)


11. 玉關定 Yu Guan Ding (21296.850xxx; only 玉關 Yu Guan)

12. 遠望黃鶴樓 Yuan Wang Huanghelou (39908.178xxx; only 遠望)

13. 玉堂清 Yutang Qing (xxx; 21296.439 and 37/--/530 = 玉堂春)

14. 對月吟 Dui Yue Yin (7617.12xxx; only 對月 dui yue)

15. 幽澗泉 You Jian Quan (彈幽澗泉詩 Tan You Jian Quan?)
There are two melodic settings of Li Bai's lyrics, in

Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu (#10)
Qinxue Lianyao (1739; Folio 4, #9)

The lyrics are the same, but two have completely different music. The compiler of 1739, Wang Shan says he wrote the melody himself. (9411.316xxx).

Return to QSCB, or to the Guqin ToC.